The figures in this article are quite badly out of date.
Killer whales are the most popular of all marine attractions. Since the first capture, almost 30 years ago, 150 killer whales have been kept in 40 aquaria around the world. This includes 13 born in captivity, 56 from British Columbia and Washington State, one from California and 55 from Iceland. Iceland is likely to remain the principal supplier of orcas to world aquaria for the foreseeable future.
Also included are the 13 orcas which have been captured for Japanese aquaria in local offshore waters since 1972. Three that had survived being harpooned were sold to aquaria; there others were herded into shallow water by Japanese drive fisheries. Six of the orcas caught died within a year, one has so far survived for 10 years.
Several studies have looked at captive orca survival, reproduction rates and causes of death but only in selected animals kept under the best conditions. The cause of death in half of these cases was bacterial infection, with pneumonia topping the list.
A US study by marine mammal researchers Douglas DeMaster and Jeannie Drevenak determined that, on the basis of a limited sample mainly from US institutions where standards tend to be highest, orcas were living for an average of 13 years from the date of their capture. Most of these were immature whales less than ten years old at the time of capture. In the wilds of British Columbia, long-term studies have revealed that male and female orcas live to about 60, females sometimes 20 years longer. Thus, to date, wild orcas are living two to three times longer than those in captivity.
Currently, 48 orcas are held captive in 18 aquaria around the world. The controversy continues.
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